July 12th, 2010

[BLOG-LIKE POSTING] On naive geopolitics and Karelia, or, why I'm not one for Stratfor

This Moscow Times article on purported Karelian secessionism caught my interest.

A Karelian man has been charged with extremism for calling for a referendum to return the northern republic and parts of the Murmansk and Leningrad regions to Finland, prosecutors said Tuesday.

The man, identified only as a 47-year-old Petrozavodsk resident, said the territories near Russia's border with Finland were "groundlessly" annexed by the Soviet Union between 1939 and 1947, prosecutors said.

He put leaflets into mailboxes in the Karelian town of Sortavala and e-mailed his appeal to Russian and foreign media outlets and nongovernmental organizations.

The suspect "called for the violent change of Russia's territorial integrity," Marina Kozyreva, a spokeswoman for Karelia's prosecutor's office, said by telephone.

She said, however, that she could not remember what sort of violence he had proposed.

The suspect faces up to three years in prison if convicted of making public calls to extremist activity.

Dmitry Dubrovsky, a senior researcher at the Russian Ethnographic Museum, told The Moscow Times that he saw nothing criminal in the leaflets and that police had opted not to use him as an official expert in their case after he told them that they did not breach anti-extremism laws.

Thanks to Google News and Translate, I was able to find this Russian-language article which went into greater detail about what happened.

January 16, 2010 in the city Sortavala leaflets appeared to unusual appeals. Unknown persons were laying on their home mailboxes citizens. They were written on behalf of the organization were "Ladoga Karelia, which painted a rather picturesque horrors of the Russian life. To solve all the problems suggested a radical way - to back Russian border in Finland all the lands which passed to the Soviet Union after the signing of international treaties in 1939 and 1947 respectively. Under the distribution came not only part of Karelia, and the territory of Murmansk and Leningrad regions.

These extremist appeals immediately to the attention of the FSB, but the city at that time had time to disperse about 50 copies of hazardous leaflets. Moreover, the time for propaganda was chosen very appropriate. In the courtyard stood a cold winter, and residents Sortavala froze from the cold, because the city did not have enough fuel for heating. Dissatisfaction with the inhabitants of the actions of the authorities grew, and then suddenly have mentioned leaflets. "... While politicians and business tycoons line their pockets with money, we - the people of Karelia, remain powerless observers, as our Fatherland stolen. So how much can you tolerate? "- Asked the authors of the message. Then came the call to join Finland. Although inherited all the cold, significant reaction from the local population information leaflets did not cause. But law-enforcement bodies seriously, to find sponsors.

The whole episode is ridiculous. Leaving aside the fact that Russia is just uninterested in giving up any territories, the Finns don't want them. The territories cited above, all ceded by Finland to the Soviet Union after the Winter War, were originally populated by Finns; if they still were, there would have been a strong movement for union with Finland in these territories, at least for closer associations. Even Romania has been intermittently able to attract Moldovans--if not Moldova--into its orbit. The Finns living in those territories were lucky enough to be successfully evacuated into rump Finland ahead of the Soviets, however, the remaining Finnic peoples in adjacent East Karelia remaining Soviets (now Russians). Few Finns want to annex into their country territories with overwhelmingly non-Finnish populations, with sadly underdeveloped economies needing proportionately at least as much investment as East Germany after reunification, just because these territories were Finnish in their grandparents' lifetimes.

It would be interesting to know the ancestry of this anonymous unfortunate 47 year old, if he was Finnish or Karelian by ethnicity. I'm unaware of any separatist movement among either nationality; Finnish and Karelian activism in the Republic of Karelia is limited to pressure for greater state support for their language and culture. Even if there was such a movement, the demographics would make such a movement hopeless: in the Republic of Karelia the 2002 census recorded that less than 12% of the population claimed any Finnic identity at all, while in the areas ceded to the Soviet Union hardly any Finns remained at all.

Might people in the Republic of Karelia, and/or in the Karelian Isthmus once part of Finland, want to secede to Finland regardless, to enjoy happy social-democratic prosperity inside the European Union, regardless of ethnic issues? I suppose it's possible, but unless I am missing a mass movement just waiting to be born there isn't such a movement. It would be among the first of its kind, being without precedent: Poles in Silesia didn't want their region to secede to the Germany their region was tied with for prosperity's sake and despite nationalism, Baja California remains firmly Mexican, and in 1991 Slovenia chose (well, not so much "chose" as "not considered at all") not to try to become a Land of Austria. The fears expressed by the Russian government that prosecuted that nameless Karelian are rooted in the fantastical.

That isn't what Stratfor has to say. I posted an extended rant last June about how Stratfor founder George Friedman's view of the world is frustratingly limited, reduced to the calculations of the lengths of borders and the size of armies and facts about historical issues, not taking into account the innumerable features of economic and cultural and political life that determine what the future makes of the past but occasionally inserting prejudices (Mexican irredentism, please) with little grounding. And, yes, Stratfor's analysts follow not, well, reality, but the same profoundly blinkered perspectives: this 2004 update lists Karelia along with Tatarstan and Chechnya as one of the regions that could "surge" against the Russian government, this 2004 post talks about how Karelia is spreading "revolutionary" spirit, this post goes to cite secessionism in (among other regions) Karelia as a reason on why Russia would not recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (got that wrong, no?).

Argh. If only we had less superficial Internet analysis, more, well, analysis embedded in reality!

[LINK] The New York Times on the Future of Facebook and Wikipedia: "Keep Globalizing"

Two articles of some note about how mainstays of the English-language Internet are starting to permeate even more the non-Anglophone Internet popped out at me recently, both from the New York Times.

  • In "Facebook Makes Headway Around the World", Miguel Helft suggests that rather than different social networks continuing to dominate their portions of the world alongside facebook--Orkut in Brazil, say, or Friendster in Southeast Asia--Facebook is emerging as dominant everywhere, thansk to efforts to recruit users to produce variants of Facebook in different regional and language versions.

  • It is pulling even with Orkut in India, where only a year ago, Orkut was more than twice as large as Facebook. In the last year, Facebook has grown eightfold, to eight million users, in Brazil, where Orkut has 28 million.

    In country after country, Facebook is cementing itself as the leader and often displacing other social networks, much as it outflanked MySpace in the United States. In Britain, for example, Facebook made the formerly popular Bebo all but irrelevant, forcing AOL to sell the site at a huge loss two years after it bought it for $850 million. In Germany, Facebook surpassed StudiVZ, which until February was the dominant social network there.

    [. . .]

    Just over two years ago, Facebook was available only in English. Still, nearly half of its users were outside the United States, and its presence was particularly strong in Britain, Australia and other English-speaking countries.

    The task of expanding the site overseas fell on Javier Olivan, a 33-year-old Spaniard who joined Facebook three years ago, when the site had 30 million users. Mr. Olivan led an innovative effort by Facebook to have its users translate the site into more than 80 languages. Other Web sites and technology companies, notably Mozilla, the maker of Firefox, had used volunteers to translate their sites or programs.

    But with 300,000 words on Facebook’s site — not counting material posted by users — the task was immense. Facebook not only encouraged users to translate parts of the site, but also let other users fine-tune those translations or pick among multiple translations. Nearly 300,000 users participated.

    “Nobody had done it at the scale that we were doing it,” Mr. Olivan said.

    The effort paid off. Now about 70 percent of Facebook’s users are outside the United States. And while the number of users in the United States doubled in the last year, to 123 million, according to comScore, the number more than tripled in Mexico, to 11 million, and it more than quadrupled in Germany, to 19 million.

  • Noam Cohen's "How Can Wikipedia Grow? Maybe in Bengali", meanwhile, describes how Wikipedia's core supporters are trying to make the encyclopedia more credible. It may not be professionally respectable--experts can be difficult to recruit, at least so far--but the various non-English-language Wikipedias can always expand their content and user base. "One, two, three, a thousand Wikipedias!"

  • On Saturday, a representative of Google, Michael Galvez, described the company’s various efforts to “seed” the smaller Wikipedias in languages like Swahili. Because search engines are useful only when there is an abundance of researched and reliable material, the company has paid translators and offered Google translation kits to foster content in many languages that are underrepresented on the Internet, including Arabic and many in South Asia.

    Users contributed millions of words in these languages, Mr. Galvez told the audience of 100. But he added, “We had some people welcome us, and others who said, ‘Why are you doing this?’ ”

    A shift in perspective came quickly. A report by A. Ravishankar of the Wikipedia in Tamil — one of the underrepresented South Asian languages — noted that in mid-2009, the site’s administrators suddenly noticed articles appearing out of nowhere. Only months later did the Wikipedians learn that they were witnessing the benefits of Google’s project to improve their site and increase the amount of content online in Tamil.

    In understated phrasing, Mr. Ravishankar explained what the surge in content was lacking. For example, the entries covered “too many American pop stars and Hindi movies, which Tamils may not need as a priority.” There was sloppiness in language and coding. And the content was mostly not original, having been translated from English Wikipedia entries.

    [LINK] "Dark Matter May Be Building Up Inside the Sun"

    Readers of science fiction writer Stephen Baxter's Xeelee Sequence novels would remember that one major theme was the fact that dark matter--the term for an unknown substance known only through its very weak interactions with the normal matter that makes up the visible universe--was contaminating the stars, influencing their energy cycles and ultimately their very lifetimes. According to Wired Science's Lisa Grossman, that may actually be true: dear old Sol may have absorbed more than enough dark matter over its lifetime to influence its evolution.

    In a paper in the July 2 Physical Review Letters, [astrophysicist Subir] Sarkar and Oxford colleague Mads Frandsen suggest another way to find light dark matter: Look to the sun.

    Because lightweight dark matter particles wouldn’t vaporize each other when they meet, the sun should collect the particles the way snowballs collect more snow.

    “The sun has been whizzing around the galaxy for 5 billion years, sweeping up all the dark matter as it goes,” Sarkar said.

    The buildup of dark matter could solve a pressing problem in solar physics, called the solar composition problem. Sensitive observations of waves on the sun’s surface have revealed that the sun has a much easier time transporting heat from its interior to its surface than standard models predict it should.

    Dark matter particles that interact only with each other could make up the difference. Photons and particles of regular matter bounce off each other on their way from the sun’s interior to its surface, so light and heat can take billions of years to escape. But because dark matter particles ignore all the regular matter inside the sun, they have less stuff in their way and can transport heat more efficiently.

    “When we do the calculation, to our amazement, it turns out this is true,” Sarkar said. “They can transport enough heat to solve the solar composition problem.”

    Next, Sarkar and Frandsen calculated how being full of dark matter would affect the number of neutrinos the sun gives off. They found that the neutrino flux would change by a few percent. That’s not much, Sarkar said, but it’s just enough to be detected by two different neutrino experiments — one in Italy called Borexino and one in Canada called SNO+ — that are soon to get under way.

    “It’s a speculative idea, but it’s testable,” Sarkar said. “And the tools to test it are coming on line pretty fast. We don’t have to wait 20 years.”

    Grossman suggests that some preliminary data collected by separate groups support Sarkar and Frandsen's hypothesis.

    [ISL] On Prince Edward Island's new morning television show

    "Live! With Regis and Kelly", the syndicated American morning show that--unsurprisingly--also scores well ratings-wise in Canada, is filming episodes in downtown Charlottetown, in Confederation Landing Park.

    The show, which will broadcast from PEI July 12 to 15, will show off the island’s scenery and culture. P.E.I.’s tourism office pitched the idea of hosting the show in the hopes that “Live! With Regis & Kelly” will bring attention and more visitors to the island. “We really felt that what we had to offer was a secret location people did not know much about,” said spokesperson Brenda Gallant. But bringing the show to P.E.I. cost the taxpayers $1 million, amounting to a fifth of the province’s yearly tourism advertising budget.

    The cost of bringing the show to Prince Edward Island has been widely criticized, but the Globe and Mail's Simon Houptsuggests (to my mind, quite believably) that it's cost-effective, a good way to make people who otherwise would know nothing off Prince Edward Island know what and where it is. "Tourism matters far more to PEI than the rest of Canada. In 2008, the province's percentage of GDP from tourism, 7.62 per cent, was far larger than the Canadian average of 2.01 per cent. In 2009, PEI's direct revenue from tourism was $374-million." Certainly more Americans would be welcome: the number of U.S. visitors to PEI from 2006-2009 (with fixed roof accommodation) fell by 25.3%.

    If it works ...

    The popular morning duo, who normally host Live! With Regis and Kelly from Manhattan, kicked off their visit to P.E.I. with plenty of praise for the province's green rolling vistas.

    Their first guest was a local chef who presented samples of the region's famous seafood.

    Philbin drew laughs as he nibbled gingerly at a hotdog made from mussels and refused to sample an ice cream made with oysters.

    Celebrity guests included Twilight star Peter Facinelli, style guru Carson Kressley and country sensation Lady Antebellum.

    Live! With Regis and Kelly is slated to shoot four episodes in P.E.I., which will air through Thursday on CTV.

    Tuesday's show was to feature a reinterpretation of the P.E.I. literary and stage classic Anne of Green Gables, titled Kelly Anne of Green Gables.

    Soon after taking the stage on Monday, Philbin turned the cameras to four women in the front row who said they waited all night in the rain to make sure they got a good spot in the audience.

    Philbin said he was especially in awe of the Mounties, who escorted the duo to the outdoor stage in Confederation Landing Park under overcast skies.

    “In previous visits up here to Canada I have said as a young boy I just admired the Royal Canadian Mounted Police so much: the uniforms and the way they took care of the country,” Philbin said.

    “It’s a pleasure now to have eight of them here escorting us out here today.”

    Ripa gushed over the food, recounting a curry meal she enjoyed at a local pub over the weekend and said she spotted an eagle during a horseback riding trip with Kressley for a taped segment.

    “I kind of feel like we're in the middle of painting,” said Ripa.

    [LINK] "Island Madness: The residents of B.C.'s Gulf Islands are all riled up"

    I've blogged a fair bit here about the Toronto Islands, a collection of sandy dunes bracketing Toronto's inner harbour that, somewhat paradoxically, are actively promoted and protected by the city government and the mini-archipelago's inhabitants as pristine territories, beautiful pieces of nature perfect for--regulated--mass tourism. Via the National Post's Brian Hutchinson, I've learned that the Toronto Islands have close analogies on the British Columbian coast, in the Gulf Islands that lie midway between Vancouver and Vancouver Island in the Strait of Georgia. Although these islands are much larger--the largest, Saltspring Island, is home to ten thousand people and hundreds of times the surface area of the Toronto Islands combined--they have a similar carefully contentious relationship with the mainland that supports the islands economically but could also overwhelm them. It turns out that many people in the Gulf Islands are not happy at all with the way the islands are strictly controlled.

    Mr. Pierce swears that all he did to rile up certain neighbours was question new draft bylaws crafted for the island, especially fine print restrictions on agricultural land use and residency. He directly challenged one of Hornby’s two elected officials, members of the Islands Trust. A federation of local governments, the Trust regulates and directs policy on all 470 Gulf Islands, large and small. The vast majority of residents live on 14 of the islands.

    Mr. Pierce has been shunned by a segment of his community ever since. “This is the most tightly controlled place I’ve ever seen,” he says. “Step out of line and you become a target.” But that’s nothing new. For as long as anyone can remember, people have bickered on these otherwise idyllic islands, about everything. And since 1974, the year it was established by provincial legislation, the Islands Trust has borne much of the blame.

    The Trust is variously accused of an anti-development bias, of being anti-democratic, of refusing to follow simple common sense. Rebellions erupt every few years on one island, then another. There’s a big one brewing on Salt Spring, the largest and most famous island in the Gulf Island chain.

    On Sunday, a secessionist rally was held in downtown Ganges, the island’s commercial centre. A group called Islanders for Self-Government wants the B.C. government to review the Islands Trust Act. They want “locally accountable and responsible governance.” They specifically would like Salt Spring to break free from the Islands Trust and incorporate, so that it may establish its own municipal governance.

    Incorporation would be expensive, especially for ratepayers, notes Islands Trust chairperson Sheila Malcolmson. The province no longer provides “transition” funding to islands that do choose to go the municipal route, she says. A referendum on the matter was held on her island, Gabriola, in 2005, and incorporation was soundly rejected. Salt Spring held a referendum in 2002 with the same result.

    But that was well before the Salt Spring Coffee Co. debacle. The island’s second-largest employer saw its proposal for a new, eco-friendly coffee roasting facility shot down last year by the Islands Trust, in response to some isolated but very vocal opposition led by noted wildlife artist Robert Bateman.

    [LINK] "Why so many love to hate Twitter"

    Globe and Mail web columnist Ivor Tossell has a short sweet column presenting his take on why some people (not me) just do not like Twitter. "Twitter is a remarkable service that’s given the general public some good reasons to think poorly of it." Tossell comes up with four points--its initial impenetrability to newcomers, a seeming necessary inanity, Twitter's ability to reinforce tight-knit communities of professionals and friends and family, and the performativity and artifice of identity on Twitter--but, he concludes, these four points are product of the fear that the Internet will dumb and simplify too much.

    Ultimately, Twitter scares people because its concept plays to contemporary fears. The idea of millions of people writing very short notes about things that may or may not be profound sparks worries about such things as the dumbing-down of media, the fragmentation of attention spans and the loss of authentic offline interactions (whatever those were).

    It’s mostly nonsense. Twitter doesn’t actually behave like that. It can pay off with real conversation, real learning, and real-life socialization – but this is almost impossible to see without joining, and plowing through the initial slog. And as long as its upsides stay hidden while its downsides hang out, Twitter is likely to remain adored by its devotees and derided by the rest.

    For what it's worth, I find Twitter useful as a source of links, occasional quick exchanges with people I'm working on projects with, the odd hilarity, and a constant reminder to me that I need to pare down my prose for sake of efficiency and style. That last point aside, my experience in the Twittersphere is not too different from the way the blogosphere used to be for me, actually, back when my experience was all so much more shorter and dialogical. LiveJournal back in 2002 was fun.

    [LINK] "Pentagon consults with Canadian queers on repealing DADT"

    This Xtra! article caught my attention.

    Canadian lawyer Doug Elliott was suggested to Pentagon officials by an American law professor familiar with his work on queer cases in Canada.

    "It came out of the blue for me," Elliott says. "I was aware that President Obama had suggested that they should be looking at repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell, but I really wasn't watching the process all that closely.

    After a 30-minute phone call with several of the team members from the Pentagon, Elliott mentioned that he would be travelling to Washington DC at the end of the month with Egale Canada's Helen Kennedy to attend a fundraiser for the Williams Institute at the Canadian Embassy, and that the pair could meet the Pentagon's team in person while in town. The officials agreed.

    Elliott and Kennedy arrived at the Pentagon on May 26.

    "We were kind of the odd couple in the Pentagon, I think, but we were very graciously received by the team," Elliott says. "They had representatives from all of the services at the Pentagon, except for the Coast Guard. There was someone from the Marines, the Air Force, the Army, and the Navy including two full colonels, so they were taking it pretty seriously."

    Apparently Canadians, representatives of the military and otherwise, have been talking to the American military about the problems of DADT and the non-problems with out soldiers.

    When asked what discussions the Canadian Forces have had with the Pentagon on this issue, a spokesperson at National Defence headquarters emailed the following:

    "Please note that on May 19, 2010, the CF have sent a delegation to Washington, DC to participate in the Brookings Palm Institute panel discussion on the subject of the DADT policy in the American military. Canada maintains bi-lateral discussions with the US on a number of issues. As it would be inappropriate for the Canadian Forces to comment on the policies of other militaries, we are unable to comment further."

    While the issues around chaplains in the US armed forces appears to be more contentious than it was in the Canadian Forces, the biggest message that Elliott says of the Canadian experience is that things happened with relative ease.

    "The whole parade of horrors that was trotted out in Canada before the ban ended — about the terrible things that were going to happen in showers and on submarines and things like that — none of that materialized," Elliott says. "All of this stuff about the problems it would cause on the battlefield just didn't come up."

    American readers in particular, your thoughts?